• NE Scotland Branch Report 2020

    As all Branches will undoubtedly agree this year of 2020 has been unusual to say the least. Covid 19 affected most of the plans we set last year so we all had to find new ways of communicating.  Working apart but together became a new norm and I am proud to say that once more our NES Branch pulled out all the stops to create successes we would never thought possible.

    Last year ended as normal with a packed Kings College Chapel and our Harps Accord Orchestra enchanted audiences once more with a varied programmed supported by The Mearns and Deveron Singers.  We raised £665.50 for Archway Respite Care and we were able to add £204 to branch funds.  We also took Harps of Gold to Banff Academy.

    Before lockdown we were able to fit in a workshop by Wendy Stewart in March but the one we had scheduled with Corrina Hewat in April unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the Covid restrictions. Like many other teachers I had to quickly upscale my technology skills and quickly learnt the versatility of Zoom and through this medium I continued to teach my students in individual lessons. Through doing this I began to see the potential of this medium and soon started planning a Virtual Harp Concert which involved some of our wonderful harpers making their own video of a performance at home and these we brought together to an International Audience over Zoom. We were delighted to have people tuning from South Africa, USA, France, Ireland as well as all over the UK. Through donations this concert raised £180 for the Branch.

     After the success of this concert and taking inspiration from the Harp Festival Online, we further began to explore the possibilities of having online workshops so our first online workshop took place with Corrina Hewat and myself sharing the teaching.  

    Our format worked well and the feedback was very positive with comments like ‘I could really see and hear what the tutors were demonstrating and because everyone else was muted there were no distractions’.  We subsequently did another workshop with exactly the same format with Cheyenne Brown.   At the end of August we are having an online Masterclass in Technique with Karen Marshalsay.

    We have continued to increase our stock of Clarsachs and have just recently purchased another Bohemian Harp from Christoph Locherbach and hope to purchase 1 more by the end of the year.  This brings our stock of Clarsachs to 16 producing a steady rental income for the Branch.     

    Our membership stands now at 43 members.

    Although Covid 19 has placed unprecedented restrictions on our activities we have risen to the challenge and we intend to have a Virtual Harps of Gold so we are currently planning this and look forward to presenting this on various social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.  So I am pleased to report that our little Branch continues to break new ground and we are proud of our achievements this year.

    Irene Watt – Convenor

    London & South East Branch Report 2020

    Between July 2019 and February 2020 our branch held playing meetings and workshops in Surrey, south London, Hertfordshire, Hampshire/Berkshire, Suffolk, and Birmingham.  These included informal playing sessions without an invited tutor, as well as organised workshops.

    In the Hampshire/Berkshire area, branch members enjoyed an afternoon workshop with Stephen Dunstone, learning a couple of his ensemble arrangements.  In what has become a tradition, several members performed Carols with Harps concerts at the beginning of December.

    In London, tutors for the monthly ‘Meet and Retreat’ evening workshops included Olivia Jageurs teaching polyrhythms, and Tara Minton teaching a jazz workshop.

    The branch also sponsored several Harp Club Oxford sessions, which are taught by Steph West in Oxford for ages 8-18.

    Our branch annual residential Clarsach Course which is always held at the end of September in conjunction with Benslow Music in Hertfordshire was again well-attended and proved very enjoyable, led by two inspiring tutors, Keziah Thomas and Rachel Hair.

    We had been very much looking forward to welcoming Isobel Mieras to our branch to teach an ensemble workshop day in May, but unfortunately like so much else, that event had to be put on hold.

    Our last face to face meeting was in February, but in the months during lockdown, many branch members enjoyed being able to access the Virtual EIHF and other on-line (non-branch) workshops and concerts, including workshops taught by Ailie Robertson and Rachel Hair, and live-streamed concerts by Harriet Earis and Lily Neill.  Thanks to Keziah Thomas, the ‘Meet and Retreat’ monthly London meetings have continued online.

    Charles Hope, our branch harp hire administrator has been kept busy managing our branch hire harps, most of which have been out on hire for most of the year, and our four loan harps were allocated to deserving applicants.

    Our branch again sponsored the Harp on Wight festival and EIHF.

    Anne Chorley and Felicity Merchant

    Isle of Lewis Branch Report 2020

    There are currently 12 paid up members in the Lewis branch. 

    Earlier in the year, a small number attended one of the care homes on the Island and played a variety from the group’s repertoire.  Janet and Màiri played a duet of ‘Leaving Stoer’ and the ‘Rose of St. Magnus’, both written by Ivan Drever.  This was well received.

    Several members attended the, Virtual Edinburgh International Harp Festival.  One member followed  Rachel `Hair’s ‘Looking at a rainbow through a dirty window,’ by Calum Stewart and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  We were grateful that there was so much variety to choose from.

    Many of us watched several concerts and tutorials and downloaded the music which was fantastic and are now learning new pieces.  We all agree that if we can’t attend in person, this is the next best thing and indeed many of us who would never be able to attend the festival, found the experience invaluable.

    We are having regular  ensemble practices, using Skype.  We have learned new pieces during the Lockdown:   ‘Brochan Lom’ in three parts and ‘The Brown Island’.  Many of us have been surprised how much we have adapted to the virtual learning experience and are  able to move forward in our learning with this medium – the bonus being for the older ones, that our backs are a lot better for not dragging our harps about!

    Some of our younger members have done well in their various categories in competitions 

    Mod 2019 – Glasgow

    • Intermediate 1 – Fiona Langley (2nd)
    • Intermediate 2 – Mairi Anna Binns (1st)
    • 13-18 Duet – Mairi Anna & Fiona (3rd)

    Western Isles Young Musician of the Year (Feb 2020)

    • Junior Secondary Strings – Mairi Anna Binns (Finalist)
    • Primary Strings – Fiona Langley (Winner)

    Inverness Music Festival (March 2020)

    • Intermediate – Mairi Anna Binns (1st).

    We are understandably, extremely proud of their achievements.

    Highland Branch Report 2020

    What an unusual year for everyone!  Here at the Highland Branch it was even unusual before the pandemic hit, starting with all three tutors local to the Inverness area having big life events occurring all at the same time in the autumn:  Isbel Pendlebury flew off on her year’s travelling, Emma Wright moved a bit further south, and I had a baby!  The branch did support a late-September sitting of the Scottish Harp Graded Exams, with Gillian Fleetwood examining.  All 12 Highland pupils passed with flying colours!

    We started off 2020 with our usual winter workshops.  In January, Emma and myself led a workshop with a record-breaking 22 participants!  We were so excited that our numbers had nearly doubled since last year’s workshops.  Several of the attendees had just acquired their harps and hadn’t had much prior tuition, so wonderful they were keen to join in.  In February, we welcomed guest tutors Heather Yule and Ingrid Henderson, with another large group of participants.  Trying to cater for our beginners, we also had branch member Katie Ferguson take a small group of them so they didn’t feel lost in the big groups.  We were just gearing up for our third workshop and spring concert when the lockdown hit and these had to be postponed.

    The second edition of the Highland Branch’s Young Composer’s Competition was a great success this spring.  We had 13 wonderful new compositions submitted by primary and secondary school pupils.  Adjudicator Corrina Hewat gave some helpful and encouraging feedback to all the participants, and had the hard job of placing the winners!  Congrats to these winners in Category 1 (primary age): 1st place: Grace Scott, 2nd place:  Ava Williams, 3rd place (tie):  Jemma Sinclair & Ciara MacDonald.  Congrats also to the Category 2 winners (secondary-age): 1st place: Isy Maclean, 2nd place (tie): Isabella Sommerville & Eilidh Lamb, 3rd place (tie):  Eilidh Thom and Mhairi MacKenzie.  Although we weren’t able to hear these compositions as planned at our spring concert, we shared recordings or videos of most of them on our branch’s Facebook page, so now you could see them too!

    There was very sad news this spring with the passing of branch committee member Susanne Lloyd Jones.  Susanne was an enthusiastic workshop participant, performed wonderfully with her partner George at several branch events, and started teaching a community of harpists up in Thurso/Wick.  She will be missed at any future events and we send our best wishes to George and her family.

    Cheyenne Brown, convenor

    Glasgow Branch Report 2020

    How strange it is to look back at our year of clàrsach events before lockdown at the Glasgow branch!  We’ve had lots of fun and have learned music from some wonderful musicians.

    The year started very eventfully for us with preparations for the Royal National Mòd in Glasgow.  As host branch there was an opportunity for us to perform at the concert at the end of the day of clàrsach competitions and so for our September workshop, Gillian Fleetwood taught us her arrangement of Puinneagan Cail as well as Tog Orm Mo Phìob which had been arranged by Màiri Macleod for everyone to play together.  Our October workshop was only a few days before the event so Gwen Yorke took the chance to rehearse the Mòd music and Rachel Rutherford introduced a new tune too.

    The big day arrived and our branch members were very much a part of the clàrsach competitions.  Everyone pulled together to make an excellent team of stewards, chairpeople and tuners.  As a branch, we tend to have one-off workshops and haven’t done much performing as a group before so the concert at the end of the day was a big event for us.  We were all delighted with how it went and everyone was keen to do it again sometime!  

    In November it was time for our usual highlight: our annual joint meeting with the Edinburgh branch!  We were taught tunes by Ellie Hetherington and Becky Hill and enjoyed catching up with our friends from the east.  The other workshops from December through to March were taught by Sarah MacNeil, Romy Wymer, Pippa Reid-Foster, Ruth Mackay, Sam MacAdam and Karen Marshalsay.  By the time of our last workshop we had already heard that the harp festival had been cancelled and everyone was getting fairly edgy about what was to come but thank goodness for the music!  Over lockdown we’ve kept harping through our branch padlet of resources which has been a really fun way of dipping in and out of clàrsach activities.  Things are starting to look a bit more hopeful for music-making again.  Fingers crossed for some live tunes soon!

    Convenor – Gwen Yorke

    Secretary – Rachel Rutherford

    Edinburgh Branch Report 2020

    What an eventful session this has been!

    It started out well in September with a friendly, enjoyable day in Bamburgh as guests of the Northumbrian Branch. We played good music, tucked in to a wonderful pot luck lunch and even enjoyed a beach walk in beautiful sunshine.  A perfect day. 

    In October our Open Platform featured  delightful performances from some very young players, from brave adult beginners making debut appearances as well as exciting and beautiful music from more experienced  performers. We also had the  rare chance to hear the music of the guzheng, the Chinese horizontal harp, in the hands of Sarah Bonham Wang.  

    November saw members travel to Milngavie to join the Glasgow Branch in an afternoon of delightful music arranged and led by Eleanor Hetherington and Rebecca Hill – and delicious tea and cake in excellent company.

    Next came the Day to Play and rehearsals in preparation for our annual “Harps of Gold” Christmas concert in the Queen’s Hall.  Our chosen charity was Parkinson’s UK Scotland and, to our delight, their Singing4Fun group joined us in a truly inspiring performance.  61 harps onstage were joined by musicians  from George Watson’s College directed by Rosemary McKerchar to make a joyful start to Christmas celebrations.

    The “Burns Bash,” celebrating the birthday of our national bard, took place on January 25th -the actual day –with Margaret Collin as our tutor.  Her choice of music delighted everyone and her teaching was wonderfully paced for all.  The Burns Supper followed in gourmet style, thanks to our wonderful catering team!

    In February and early March na Clarsairean, the Branch Orchestra was rehearsing with soloist Rhona Smith of Drake Music, Scotland in preparation for a performance of the new Suite, “Shapes and Shadows,” at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival. 

    Then came the global pandemic.

    Despite having to cancel all planned activities, we were able to share and enjoy Virtual  EIHF and we continue to meet to share new music at  our regular Zoom sessions led by various teachers. Our aim now is to support as best we can all who perform, teach and love clarsach music. 

    We thank the members  of our wonderfully supportive committee for all their work in organising events and looking to the future, and all those members who undertake a myriad of other tasks to ensure the smooth running of our events.

    Isobel Mieras and Helen Forster


    Dumfries and Galloway Branch Report 2020

    We had great dreams for 2020 and Wendy had put together a lovely programme which we planned to perform in Dumfries as part of the Arts Festival and at Gatehouse of Fleet as part of the Big Lit Festival. Until lockdown we had maintained our regular monthly meetings, though some had to be cancelled because of storms & flooding. 

    The shared meeting with Harps North West, Harps Across the Border, in September 2019 was again a very enjoyable event, led by Mary Dunsford and we were hoping to have another in September 2020, but it is looking likely that it will be another Zoom event. The small surplus after this workshop was donated to the Dumfries and Galloway Youth Orchestra. A group of older members meet regularly and have played at care homes and support groups, and individuals have entertained residents who have enjoyed the soothing sounds of the clarsach and even sang or hummed along with some of the tunes. Harpists also joined in the Thursday evening clapping for the NHS, playing tunes such as Somewhere over the Rainbow and Scotland the Brave! In the lead-up to Christmas we played in the atrium of the Dumfries and Galloway Infirmary and one member played background music at Threave House, a NTS property at Castle Douglas, which caught the interest of members of the public, some of whom tried out playing the harp! 

    In lockdown some of us took part in the virtual EIHF, attending workshops and concerts, and enjoying Wendy’s workshop on Ca’ the Yowes. Wendy also contributed to the very enjoyable NE Branch’s Virtual Tea Concert and Wendy organised us to make a film of What we did in Lockdown – the highlight for me was Pauline playing her “pedal” harp (on her bike!)

    We haven’t had any virtual playing sessions as a group, as one of our member’s broadband connection is unreliable, ans some others aren’t confident in using Zoom. But we’re hoping that restrictions may soon be eased a bit more so we can meet in some sort of “live” group. Thanks as ever to Wendy Stewart, our Convenor, for great tunes, inspiration and encouragement, and endless patience.

    Lyn Walby

    Branch Secretary

    Bristol & West of England Branch Report 2020

    The Bristol & West of England Branch continued to enjoy monthly harp meetings during the autumn of 2019 and the first part of 2020, learning mostly traditional tunes.  There were two themed meetings: in December we learned a selection of Christmas carols and in January we learned Scottish tunes in preparation for Burns’ night.

    We also invited two guest tutors to lead workshops.  In October, Ben Creighton-Griffiths treated us to an exciting Jazz Harp workshop, subtitled ‘an introduction to improvisation for the beginner jazz harpist’.  We looked at the reggae rhythm and at a Bossa Nova and experimented with using lever slides and with improvising over the rhythms.  

    In November, we welcomed Emily Harris, who taught us some Welsh tunes intended for performance by a big ensemble at the 2020 World Harp Congress (which was to have taken place in Cardiff earlier this year and is now postponed to 2021).

    The arrival of the Covid-19 virus and consequent cancellation of our get-togethers led to our first online meetings, using the Zoom videoconferencing tool initially and, in later meetings, a combination of Zoom and Skype in order to accommodate members who were struggling with one or other of these tools.  Our Convenor, Julia Hammersley, worked hard to get the online meetings up and running and to record and post online videos of the tunes.  Though a few people experienced technical hitches, the meetings went surprisingly smoothly for most people and were usually well-attended, with some good feedback from members.  The meetings took place weekly from April until July, when we moved to monthly meetings.  We have learned a host of new tunes, from traditional Irish and English music to an Iranian tune and new compositions by Julia and by Isobel Mieras.  

    Contrary to expectations, the Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions this year have caused us to do more harping as a Branch than in a normal year.  We are looking forward to being able to meet again in person to play through all the new repertoire we have learned, but at least we know that, in the meantime, we can continue to meet and play online.

    Catherine Dack (Secretary)

    Argyll Branch Report 2020

    The branch has again enjoyed another busy year, that is until lock down happened!

    We always have a full schedule of monthly workshops led by the ever-patient Ingrid Henderson.  These generally take place near Oban but as our membership is still continuing to increase in the south of the region, we quite often hold additional workshops in Mid-Argyll as well.

    Isobel Mieras also paid the branch a visit in July and under her careful tutelage, we came away with a range of lovely pieces which we use for local performances. 

    We had a great time at our weekend residential in August with a Harry Potter themed venue in a local castle no less. Everyone gets into the spirit of the weekend and prizes are awarded for the best dressed harp and sometimes harper!

    In September, we held a rather unusual workshop based on Russian melodies which Pru Williams had put together with her teacher Monica Turoni. Pru gave us some really interesting background to the pieces and explained the context of the translations. We were also able to purchase the music book which has proved an unusual addition to our repertoire.

    In November, we once again played in the global orchestra #iPlay4Peace. We had an ensemble of ten members taking part. We performed a haunting fiddle tune called ‘Winning the Peace’ composed by Paul Anderson. 

    This year we also played two sets in the Taynuilt Ceilidh. It takes a lot of persuasion to get our members onto the stage, but they played beautifully and the hard work running up to it was very worthwhile.

    Some of our members also took part in a ‘Coffee and Clàrsach’ session in Tarbert. We expected a few members of the community to support us but were overwhelmed with the response and we were kept playing for over two hours!

    This year the branch was delighted to support one of our members, Lindy Veitch, who was asked to give a talk and demonstration on the clàrsach at the Dunollie Castle Clan Gathering in Oban. We played a varied set and had considerable participation with the ‘Come and try’ session afterwards.

    We have continued to have some workshop sessions online and our thanks go to Ingrid for this. I’d also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge all the hard work our tutors do. The preparation always goes unseen but is very much appreciated by all of us.

    I know some of our members have really missed the social contact and time with their harping friends. Here’s to a full programme of events next year! 

    The Iain Macleòid Young Composer Award Winner 2019 – Ruth Lee

    Ruth Lee is an award-winning composer, harpist and vocalist working primarily in acoustic and electro-acoustic music.A dynamic soloist, who studied with Eleanor Turner, Ruth is a graduate of the University of York (First-Class BA Hons. Music), where she was awarded both The Wilfrid Mellers Prize for Music and Concerto Award.

    Her original music for solo harp has received several awards, including First Prize at The Future Blend Project 2018/19 and First Prize at the Wales Harp Composition Competition 2015. award-winning composer, harpist and vocalist working primarily in acoustic and electro-acoustic music.

    To discover more about Ruth you can visit her website and social media pages: